Rhetoric, technical writing, and ethics

Science and Engineering Ethics 5 (4):463-478 (1999)
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Many outside science and engineering, especially social scientists and “rhetoricians”, claim that rhetoric, “the art of persuasion”, is an important part of technical communication. This claim is either trivial or false. If “persuasion” simply means “effective communication”, then, of course, rhetoric is an important part of technical communication. But, if “persuasion” has anything like its traditional meaning (a specific art of winning conviction), rhetoric is not an important part of technical communication; indeed, its use in technical communication would be unethical. [By] an advocate is meant one whose business it is to smooth over real difficulties, and to persuade where he cannot convince.



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Michael Davis
Illinois Institute of Technology